The World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) is the most comprehensive dataset on the world's protected areas covering both terrestrial and marine protected areas. Currently there are about 200,000 records in the database covering nearly every country and territory.
The basis for the database began in 1959, when the United Nations Economic and Social Council called for a list of national parks and equivalent reserves in recognition that they 'are valuable for economic and scientific reasons and also as areas for the future preservation of fauna and flora and geologic structures in their natural state' (Resolution 713 (XXVIII)). The first UN List of Protected Areas was published in 1962. Today the UN List is incorporated into the WDPA - which was established in 1981.
The WDPA consists of spatial information (where a protected areas is) and associated descriptive information (what the protected area is called, its designation type, etc).
The database is regularly updated through direct contact with countries and other relevant partners and covers a diverse range of protected areas. The data can be viewed and downloaded via the online map viewer, Protected planet www.protectedplanet.net.
The database includes nationally designated areas (e.g. national parks, nature reserves) as well as areas designated under international agreements and conventions (e.g. UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance). In order to qualify for inclusion in the WDPA, a site should meet the IUCN or CBD definition of a protected
The global protected areas system is in constant flux with new protected areas being created, areas being expanded and contracted, and community and private protected areas receiving increasing recognition. At any one time the WDPA provides a snapshot of the current data that has been made available to UNEP-WCMC and an updated version of the database is produced every month.
One of the key uses of the WDPA is tracking global progress towards protected area targets. In particular the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Aichi Target 11 calls for:
'By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.' (CBD COP 10, Decision X/2)
In terms of coverage, the WDPA tells us that protected terrestrial areas have increased from 8.9% of the world's land surface in 1990 to 14.6% in 2012, and during this time, protected marine areas have more than doubled in coverage from 4.6% to 9.7% .
The database is a joint project between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), maintained by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) in Cambridge, UK.